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Local abuse shelter still a safe haven for victims during pandemic

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press The current shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse in Escanaba is shown. Tri-County Safe Harbor, Delta, Menominee, Schoolcraft Counties’ Executive Director Erin Viau said the number of phone calls to the shelter have not gone down during the pandemic. She said abusers may use the coronavirus as a way to keep their victim close.

ESCANABA — COVID-19 has caused many people to stay in their houses to “stay home, stay safe,” but not all houses are homes that are safe if there is an abuser inside. Tri-County Safe Harbor, Delta, Schoolcraft and Menominee Counties (Safe Harbor) wants everyone to know they continue to help those who are abused with free and confidential assistance at any time during the week.

“During a pandemic domestic and sexual abuse can get worse,” said Safe Harbor Executive Director Erin Viau. “We have been very busy, the number of calls haven’t gone down.”

Viau said an abuser may use the pandemic to keep their victim inside and away from others saying, ‘you can’t go, you’ll be exposed to the virus’.

For almost 40 years Safe Harbor has advocated for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking situations. In 2020 there have been additional challenges Viau and her staff have worked through.

“Domestic violence is not going away. We help anyone in a relationship and haven’t had to turn anyone away from the shelter because of the virus. We have been able to keep people socially distant at 6 feet apart,” said Viau. “Initially it was tough to go in the ER with the victim when things first shut down in March.”

Currently Safe Harbor is limiting the number of volunteers allowed. They are practicing social distancing, wearing personal protective equipment, and performing temperature checks.

“We had to rethink how we do things,” said Viau. “We’ve amped up cleaning and staff shifts are staggered to protect everyone from exposure if someone gets COVID-19.”

The shelter normally houses 15 residents, an office and a crisis line. It is a place victims heal and build skills, a place to be, learn and thrive out from under someone forcing their power and control on them, Viau noted.

“Unfortunately there will always be a need for our shelter,” she said.

The staff began a fundraising campaign last year to build a larger facility. Viau was excited about one fundraiser in particular, a murder/mystery dinner at the Island Resort and Casino. Unfortunately the dinner was canceled due to the pandemic.

“We are still planning to build a larger shelter in Escanaba. Our kick-off fundraiser was canceled in March, around the same time the governor closed all the schools. We had to cancel, but we’re planning to reschedule,” said Viau.

Funding for the shelter comes from federal and state grants and local donations. The non-profit program receives funding from local events, “Drive Away Violence”, brat sales, and other activities.

“We had to cancel our golfing event this year, that’s gonna hurt a little,” said Viau. “It takes a lot of planning and donations and we didn’t know what kind of turnout we were going to get so we canceled it for this year.”

Donations have been good, according to Viau.

“People continue to drop off food and monetary donations … masks,

toilet paper. I know these are difficult times and people are being careful about what they spend their money on. I appreciate every donation we have received,” said Viau. “One monetary donation we received was marked specifically for the new facility, so it will go there.”

Safe Harbor staff provide temporary housing and food, a 24-hour sexual assault response team, supportive counseling, a women’s support group, emergency transportation, advocacy, and support with court issues. Outreach offices provide temporary food, supportive counseling, court support, and advocacy.

The outreach office in Carney is located at 54 North Highway US41. Phone number is 906-639-3021. Menominee’s office is located at 1101 11th Ave., Suite B7. Phone number is 906-863-1116. Manistique’s outreach office is located at 4176 Oak St. Phone number is 906-286-4040. All offices provide information, referrals, education, and awareness.

“We are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Viau. “Including Menominee and Schoolcraft counties now, mostly working from home. The outreach offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 to 4.”

Safe Harbor is always in need of donated items. A current listing can be found on their Facebook page or by calling the shelter at 906-789-9207. Donations can be dropped off at 905 First Ave. S., Escanaba.

June food items include canned fruit and soups, mayo, Kool-Aid, butter, frozen juice, pasta sauce, lunch meats, and ground beef. Household items are — disinfectant and bleach spray, anti-bacterial wipes, fabric softener, HE laundry detergent, garbage bags 8-13-30 gal, dishwasher detergent and rinse aid, paper towels, toilet paper, and floor cleaner. Urgent needs for June are AA batteries, Pull-Ups 2 to 3T, HE Free and Clear detergent, women’s gift sets, new cooking utensils, Walmart, Meijer and Elmer’s gift cards, deodorant, and mouthwash.

Tri-County Save Harbor is located at 905 First Ave. S., Escanaba. They can be reached by phone at 906-789-9207 (business line) and 1-800-682-1649 or 906-789-1166 (crisis line). Their website is https://www.safe3c.com.

“Even in this weird uncertain time, we are still here to help,” Viau said. “We are still relying on donations, or we won’t be…those donations are huge.”

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